Kawamori x Yoshino on Creating Macross Frontier
July 17, 2016 3 Comments
This was a discussion between Kawamori Shōji (Chief Director) and Yoshino Hiroyuki (Series Composition), in which they discussed the genesis of Macross Frontier, the 25th anniversary production that reignited the Macross fandom both in Japan and around the world. It appeared in the first volume of Animage Original, which dates from August 2008. Since it was released during the second half of the show’s original TV run, there is nothing in the discussion about the controversial ending. However, I do recommend this to anyone who wants to know where the ideas for their favourite characters came from, or who is interested in the earliest stages of creating a TV series.
At first glance, “an incompatible pairing.” On one side is the genius designer and director whose unique works such as Genesis of Aquarion have attracted the support of a core group of fans. On the other is the popular screenwriter that has participated in all manner of hits, starting with Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. How did these two creators, who arguably stand at opposite ends of the anime world, come together to develop the story of Macross Frontier?
25 years of experience became our trump card
To start off, I’d like to ask the two of you about how this project was born.
Yoshino: It’d be better to start from before I joined the team, perhaps?
Kawamori: Well, from the time of Macross Zero (2002-2004), I’d been involved in discussions about making a Macross project for the 25th anniversary. The orders I’d been given during that early planning stage were to “do something like the original SDFM” and “that I don’t twist things any more than I’d already done” (chuckles). We had an idea for short project that ended up being canned, about a special investigation valkyrie team whose work is to crack down on crimes committed by full-sized Zentradi…
Yoshino: Wow, I’d be interested in watching that, actually…
Kawamori: Then, you might call this a blessing or a curse, but after Macross Zero, I directed Genesis of Aquarion, so I’d actually had my fill of “twisted” stories by then. In any case, the first thing I worried over was what to do about the singer. If we went with a guy, it’d be difficult to surpass Basara. But a lone female singer wouldn’t be able to adequately cover the range of music styles that we have today. So we thought about making it about a group of female artistes….
Yoshino: I see, you mean like Idolmaster? But if you had such a group singing and dancing, the animators would all keel over and die.
Kawamori: Right. And that’s why we started talking about having a pair of girls. But starting the story with the duo already formed would not have been that interesting, so we were going to introduce them separately. And that’s how the characters that became Ranka and Sheryl were created. As for Alto, the protagonist, he was originally a gamer.
Yoshino: Right. I remember that.
Kawamori: A beautiful gamer that outwits all the guys in the line—but it turns out that he’s a guy…(chuckles). However, the notion of a gamer who also demonstrates his skills in a real fight is pretty common.
Yoshino: Overman King Gainer used that idea, too.
Kawamori: And so, we came up with something that sat in complete contrast with the concepts of ‘the future’ and ‘space’: a kabuki onnagata.1 There was also an order from the producers to lower the target age group, which is why we went with a school-based story. And then we came up with the idea of a quarter-sized Macross, which went hand-in-hand with the working title of Macross 25 (Quarter). It was just after that that Bandai Visual producer Kunisaki Hisanori introduced me to Yoshino, who was involved in creating Mai-HiME (2004).
Yoshino: At the time, Producer Kunisaki told me that this new Macross was set in space, but they wanted to create something like the original SFDM. He also added that “it took us a year to convince Kawamori on this, so I’m leaving the rest to you” (chuckles). With regards to the triangle, Kawamori’s plan was to have two guys and one girl. But I was like “That wouldn’t be interesting at all. Let’s make it a harem, with two girls!”
Kawamori: Come to think of it, I hadn’t actually done any harems before this. I just never believed anyone could be that lucky (chuckles).
Yoshino: When Kawamori showed me the character chart, Sheryl was little more than an artiste that Ranka looked up to. So we raised her standing in the story and thus completed the triangle. Sheryl was like the movie (Do You Remember Love?) version of Minmay, whilst Ranka was the TV version. I was pretty much challenging myself to follow in the footsteps of the original. At first, Kawamori gave me a funny look, but with the second episode, “Hard Chase,” I was able to break through his doubts.
Kawamori: Right. With “Hard Chase,” I came around to thinking of this series as a challenge of seeing how differently we could present the same set-up. When Kanno (Yōko) said to me: “Doesn’t kabuki consist of the same programmes being done over and over, just adapted slightly different for each generation?,” I finally thought that what we did with Alto was the right choice. Though it was after-the-fact, like “Oh, so that’s why I made him a kabuki actor.”
Yoshino: For “Hard Chase,” we didn’t discuss anything beforehand; I just nervously handed over my first draft of the episode script. I figured that if this one passed muster, then I’d probably be able to do anything (chuckles). In contrast with Kawamori, who’s all about doing something different each and every time, I’m the kind of person who’s quite up front about what I like.
|Redoing the original, but making it different: instead of falling like Minmay,
Ranka has to be saved from being sucked out into space.
Kawamori: Even whilst saying that “we’ll take the path sown by SDFM,” at first, I was actually trying to resist that.
Yoshino: But after you came around with “Hard Chase,” it was like you just accelerated.
Kawamori: Are you referring to that time with episode 4, when I was like “I’m really sorry, Yoshino, but even though I confirmed this script already, could you rewrite it one more time?”
Yoshino: Yup. Episode 4 was “Miss Macross,” if I remember correctly. We’d gone through all the way to the final draft for episode 4, so I was surprised when you told me “If we’re doing this much in episode 7, then could we make episode 4 even more flashy as well?”
Kawamori: It was when we were working on episode 4 that it really hit me that 25 years had passed. That is to say, even if we were following the same path and structure as the original SDFM, because Kanno had joined us, and because there were two songstresses instead of just one, it was already different. And once that happened, I felt that whilst the surface might look the same, we could use everything below that surface to rise up to the challenge.
Before long, the 50 years that have passed in the world of Macross will also have started to flow on us
Kawamori: I had wanted to pace Aquarion better than the shows of the past, but I still ended up regretting that it felt so slow. Then, when I watched Mai-HiME, it proceeded at a pretty fast clip. Like, really interesting things were happening by episode 6 or 7. I was really impressed by that, so right from the start, we decided that we’d go at double-speed for Macross F.
Yoshino: In any case, since we have two songstresses, we’d never fit everything in if we didn’t go at double-speed (chuckles).
Kawamori: Right right. It really wouldn’t fit. We’ve come up with lots of side-stories and details, too, but there’s simply no time to do them all.
Yoshino: We have thrown away a lot of ideas. But the more we throw away, the more polished the final work should be.
Kawamori: We’ve only used ideas that have broken the 10-second barrier (for the 100m sprint). But if two episodes in a row have been in the 10-second tier, then the next one has to be from at least the 8-second tier. No matter how many ideas we came up with, there’d be no point if they didn’t fulfil these kinds of criteria. And because of this, we were pretty stressed at least until the end of the first cour.
Yoshino: That’s right, I think it was around the 10th episode, “Legend of Zero,” that the characters started moving on their own. I remember you saying that you wanted to do a ‘film within a film’, and for various reasons, we decided on using Macross Zero…
Kawamori: Deciding to go with Zero for that in-universe movie was a huge breakthrough for us.
|For example, the triangle started moving forward…|
Yoshino: Because of episode 10, we started being able to see both the background and the ending of the show. All the elements that were just strewn about until then became neatly connected to each other.2
Kawamori: Even though it was a ‘film within a film’, it crossed a line for us. In remaking Zero, it was like the 50 years that had passed in-universe became a temporal axis upon which history turned.
Yoshino: Zero was actually the newest Macross work, but just as it would have been for the characters in Frontier, it felt to us like those 50 years had passed.
Kawamori: It was a strange feeling, huh? Like we’d really become part of that pseudo-history ourselves. As if, along the lines of an idea that I came up with 25 years ago, something encompassing all of the works produced so far came to us. And since we’ve encountered it, it’s become even more meaningful. Looks like the term “Super-dimensional” really wasn’t just for show (chuckles).
Yoshino: So that’s it! (Laughs)
Kawamori: 25 years ago, I gave myself the constraint of not reusing things that had been successful in previous works. That’s why SDFM was quite an accumulation of those things I could not do. And after 25 years, it’s become something of a classic, which was quite a shock in its own way.3
From the disposition of an entertainer…
Kawamori: At the moment, it seems like a lot of the people watching Macross F have seen previous Macross series, like the original or Macross 7.
Yoshino: But there are also many younger fans. If you look up Macross F in a certain blog accumulator, you can get results differentiated by gender and age. When broadcast first began, it was about half/half gender-wise, with the core group of viewers in their twenties. But more recently, teenagers and girls/women are gaining in number.
Yoshino, did you have a particular strategy for targeting fans new to the franchise?
Yoshino: I wouldn’t call it a strategy, but when I was involved in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, we did some research on the question of “what can we do to engage younger viewers?” and even spent several entire nights debating it. Of course, what we learned from that was used in Code Geass. And the methods and elements we didn’t use for Code Geass were key to the making of Macross Frontier.
Kawamori: Until this series, I had thought about the question of “how do we convey what we want to convey to viewers easily?” However, what was really refreshing about working with Yoshino was that we seriously addressed the question of “how do we make this show popular?” (chuckles)
|I really need to watch DYRL again. I went back to find a screenshot, and absolutely loved the character animation in this performance scene!|
Yoshino: There are so many shows nowadays, of any and every kind, so in the first place, you’ve got to get people to watch it. If you asked me what is different between 25 years ago—when you were working on SDFM—and now, I’d suggest that it’s far more difficult now to get people to watch that first episode.
Kawamori: Yes, and that’s something that I’ve felt for other shows I’ve worked on. But I’ve been rather stubborn about it, like “If we do this, then sure, they’ll love it, but that’s pretty much brainwashing, isn’t it?” (chuckles). And so, we’re now trying to give great enjoyment to viewers without crossing that line into brainwashing.
Yoshino: Well, there are, broadly speaking, two types of directors. The ones who get really into the things they like and thus stay in the minor-leagues, and the entertainers. But I think that you are someone whose interests—the things that you want to do and that you enjoy doing—make you an entertainer-type.
Kawamori: Oh…I see.
Yoshino: Hm…well, please don’t think about it too much (chuckles).
Kawamori: Perhaps the perfect balance is something like “Well, I’ve done something like this once before…” If you do something that’s completely new, then it’ll resonate strongly with about 10% of viewers, but the rest of them would probably blank out, huh? (chuckles).
Yoshino: Despite that struggle, though, Kawamori is the one who always says “As long as it’s interesting, it’s possible!” You can really trust in him as an entertainer. Because of that, if I could connect all that things that Kawamori finds interesting, then I was certain that it’d become something that the masses would like. I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in a quite number of other hits, and I’ve thrown everything I’ve learned from those experiences into Macross F. The first thing I have to do here is come up with something that Kawamori will find interesting.
Kawamori: Yoshino, you must have incredibly large drawers (of talent/skills). And in that, there is so much technical finesse that you’re really brilliant at pulling everything together. It’s like, “You can fall through just a little bit more, you know.” That’s something that went through my mind when we first starting working together.
Yoshino: There were quite a number of instances where you had me do huge rewrites even after the third draft, huh?
Kawamori: Recently, when it comes to story developments that we can see coming, I’ve become able to say “We can’t do that (laughs). Try completely changing just this part to use this idea instead—but everything else is A-Okay.”
Yoshino: I’m quite particular about consistency, so if it’s just me writing, then I have a tendency to bring everything together really neatly…but there’s an amazing destroyer sitting right in front of me here (chuckles). It’s pretty unusual for the first draft and the final draft (of the episode script) to be this different, don’t you think?
Kawamori: But if we don’t do that, the existence of the original series means that this series might be too predictable/pre-ordained. Wouldn’t that be frustrating? I’m glad that we gathered together so many people who don’t like stuff that’s predictable.
Embarrassment beyond our expectations has been burnt onto film
At the same time, when we open the lid, the songs give off a rather mature impression.
Yoshino: We really have to thank Kanno Yōko for that.
Kawamori: I’d just worked with Kanno on Aquarion, so we had something of a tacit agreement that we’d work together again only after doing several other series each. But I wanted to ask her for a few songs for Frontier, so I showed her the story, and she turned around and said “I’ll do them all!” (chuckles).
Yoshino: When Kanno came around to say she’ll do it after reading the episode scripts, I was like “Alright!” For us screenwriters, our first and most important task is to write something that the other staff will be interested in doing. So when we confirmed Kanno, I felt that we’d gotten over that first mountain.
Kawamori: Fortunately, we were somehow able to find May’n for Sheryl and Nakajima Megumi for Ranka. For Kanno as well, it seemed like she figured it all out after she got them to sing the same song. In any case, the episode where their singing really helped us out was the third one, “On Your Marks.”4 We crammed a heap of stuff into that episode, but for some reason, the finished episode was really clear and refreshing. I was like, “Huh? What happened?”
Yoshino: Me, too—I asked Kawamori, actually, “Has this turned into a really embarrassing story about youth?” But at the same time, it leaves you with such a great feeling.
Kawamori: I do wonder, how in the world were we able to make something so embarrassing at this age… Of course, it’s not that we weren’t aiming for that outcome; rather, if we’re not careful, then it’ll become even more of a story about youth than even the first Macross. By way of contrast, I felt that we’d been overreaching(?) back then.
Yoshino: For me, I was rather apprehensive of the danger that it’d unconsciously become “something made by 30- and 40-something-year-old men reminiscing about their own youth” (chuckles).
Kawamori: But you know, it really was because of May’n and Megumi and the rest of the fantastic seiyuu that Frontier can be seen straight-out as a show about youth. Kanno even called it “Kōshien.”5
Yoshino: That sense of shyness, of embarrassment, in those first few episodes really felt good, Nakajima Megumi’s guileless acting as well.
Kawamori: Kikuchi Yasuhito, who I’d asked to direct the show, is great at depicting cute characters in an orthodox way, which was really helpful in achieving that balance. That mysterious balance that goes beyond the question of whether it’s interesting or not, that you can’t achieve even if you aim for it.
Yoshino: In terms of how people behave in daily life, or rather, how girls behave, Kikuchi really is fantastic at that. Take Sheryl, for example—if you’re not careful, there are quite a few things about her that would inspire hate. But he was able to capture her as the cute girl that we’d envisioned, so we’re incredibly grateful for that.
But now, the ‘show about youth’ aspect of Frontier has grown thinner, wouldn’t you say?
Kawamori: That’s true. You could say it’s become a bit harsher, or perhaps, we made it so heartwarming that it seems to have gone in an improbable direction. Of course, Macross F itself is improbable, really (chuckles), but one person has gone off in a good direction. In maintaining that balance in the triangle, it was like a pure air pocket came into being. Part of it may be that Megumi has now debuted, but that final scene of episode 10 where Ranka ascends onto the stage really gave off a sense of anticipation. It wasn’t just the great animation in that scene, but also the costume designed by Ebata Risa. A simple dress, but with slightly more elaborate shoes.
Yoshino: And that bit where she hesitated before ascending the stairs, wasn’t that great?! I thought it was fantastic! Though I’m not sure what you’ll make of this, since it comes from the person who wrote the script…(chuckles). But I do wish that young people today would believe in themselves more, in what they like and in what they want to do. Our main characters—Ranka, who didn’t give up on her dream; Alto, who’s trying his best even after going against his family; and Sheryl, who’s bursting with confidence—they’re all carrying that hidden message that we want young people to come away with.
KAWAMORI Shōji (born February 2, 1960, from Tōyama Prefecture) is a director and mechanic designer who belongs to Studio Nue. He debuted as a mecha designer in Fighting General Diamos (1978), before he was involved in the creation of The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (1982). He debuted as a director for SDFM: Do You Remember Love? just two years later, and has since been involved in numerous other works.
YOSHINO Hiroyuki (born June 2, 1970, from Chiba Prefecture) is a former schoolteacher and magazine journalist who has become a screenwriter. He has been involved in landmark shows such as Mobile Suit Gundam SEED(2002) and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006). He was also responsible for series composition on Mai-HiME (2004).
Disclaimer: As always, the translation is entirely mine, as are any mistakes and misinterpretations. Please do not copy and paste large portions of it anywhere else, though feel free to link to the post itself if you wish.
This is the 8th post in my “On Anime ‘Writing’” project, in which I have been looking at how the key staff of producers, directors and screenwriters work together to plan and write the shows that grace our screens. If you liked it, I hope you’ll check the other posts out, too. And feel free to drop me a note or question about any other series that you’re interested in for behind-the-scenes info!
- an actor that plays female roles in kabuki theatre, which is traditionally performed only by men. ↩
- Before anyone gets any strange ideas that “OMG! Frontier really was written on the fly as they were animating it!” please note that Kawamori and Yoshino are still talking about pre-production here. ↩
- In the commentaries for episodes 4 and 10, Yoshino and Kawamori go into a little more detail about what they’d talked about here. I have actually posted summaries of the eight commentary tracks that were recorded for the original BD/DVD releases back in 2008/9, but I need to go over them again. I also need to get to the four extra commentaries recorded for the Zentra-sized BD-box set that was released a few years ago… ^^; ↩
- Hm…the only insert song in this episode was Ranka’s Aimo…unless they’re referring to the two girls singing “Diamond Crevasse” at the end of the previous episode? ↩
- Kōshien is the baseball stadium where the national high school baseball tournament is held in spring and summer every year, and is shorthand for the tournament itself. “Going to Kōshien” is basically the dream of any and every high school baseball player in Japan. ↩